A24 – the production company behind The Witch, Green Room and Tusk – continues to rescue the horror genre with the brooding and brain-befuddling It Comes at Night.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
The world has been plagued by an extremely contagious disease, forcing a surviving family – Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) – to live isolated in a house deep within the woods. When another survivor, Will (Christopher Abbott), breaks into their home claiming to be seeking supplies for his own wife and son, Paul is initially untrustworthy and intends to kill him. After some convincing he agrees to let Will’s family live with them temporarily, but suspicion, allegations, assumptions and the visions that haunt Travis at night soon create a great deal of tension between the families.
It would seem apt to recommend going into It Comes at Night with as little knowledge about it as possible, but the truth is you’re just as likely to come out the other side with as few scraps of information as what you went in with. Writer/director Trey Edward Shults’ (Krisha) second feature is ambiguous in every sense of the word, straight up avoiding anything resembling exposition, convention, backstory or explanation.
What Shults does make clear is his masterwork in atmosphere. Here’s a man with a deep understanding of what it takes to stage a successfully terrifying ambience, fully capable of suspense-building restraint and an awareness that the unknown is often far scarier than what we’re given. Things as simple as a dog barking at something we can’t see in the distant woods, or the red door that lurks at the end of a darkened corridor are dripping with dread, more often than not because we don’t know what lies beyond.
Subtle technical ticks are used to great effect, particularly the shift to a tighter aspect ratio whenever Travis experiences one of his horrifying visions. It’s such a tiny thing, but the mere sight of night coming and those black bars sliding slowly into place is enough to induce fear that something nasty is about to happen.
Shults is helped by a very game cast, especially Joel Edgerton in another apprehensive, dialled-back performance, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., who will soon no doubt owe his breakout success to this. But Shults’ film is ultimately defined by two things – its unsettling feel and imagery, and the endless barrage of questions you’re left with afterwards.
For better or worse, it’s down to our own personal interpretation and what we choose to make of it. In this sense, It Comes at Night can’t quite manage the satisfaction of say, The Witch, but it is a breathlessly tense 90-minute terror ride.
It Comes At Night is available in Australian cinemas from July 6
Image courtesy of Roadshow Films